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Armenia 'Still Ready' For Sniper Withdrawal In Karabakh

A Karabakh Armenian soldier practices sniper fire during a military exercise.

A Karabakh Armenian soldier practices sniper fire during a military exercise.

YEREVAN -- Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian says the armed forces of Armenia and the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh remain prepared to withdraw snipers from their frontline positions in order to bolster the cease-fire regime in the Karabakh conflict zone, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

"We constantly express our readiness not to breach the truce and withdraw snipers but the leadership of Azerbaijan, their military command refuse to do the same," Ohanian told RFE/RL on November 24.

International mediators have repeatedly called for both Armenian and Azerbaijani forces to withdraw snipers from the area.

They say this would significantly reduce deadly cease-fire violations that are reported from the main Armenian-Azerbaijani "line of contact" around Karabakh on a regular basis.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon added his voice to those calls in a statement issued in September 2010.

The idea is backed by the Armenian side but opposed by Azerbaijan.

An Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesman last year called it "yet another ploy" by the Armenians. "Snipers mostly operate on the Armenian side," he said.

Two Armenian soldiers were shot dead near Karabakh on November 19-20 by what the military authorities in Stepanakert described as sniper fire from Azerbaijani army positions.

The Armenian military pledged to respond "disproportionately" to their deaths.

Ohanian reaffirmed that pledge. "The leadership of the [Karabakh] Defense Army is thinking about that and will take appropriate measures to counter such actions by Azerbaijan," he said. "[We are thinking about] measures that will force them to refrain from sniper fire."

In a related development, the Armenian Foreign Ministry announced on November 24 that the U.S., French, and Russian mediators co-heading the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will arrive in Yerevan on November 28 at the start of a fresh round of Karabakh shuttle diplomacy.

The diplomats toured the conflict zone late last month. They said after that trip that the conflicting parties agreed in principle to a "draft mechanism to investigate incidents along the front lines," which was proposed by the mediators.

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